written by Cassandra Metcalfe
An exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery by Geoffrey Farmer
“A remembering, a foreground and a dancing text.
A nose, a staging, a clock and a laughing palm.
You will tower up like a giant and then shrink back to your original size.
You will see days change colour and two million years will fit into your pocket.”
Saturday August 8th at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I walk in all unsuspecting to find an exhibit that absolutely woke me up. Upcycling at its finest and most eclectic, this artist showed multiple pieces that revisioned medium, message and material and created art out of everything from broomsticks, to half a snake head/pipe, to formed tinfoil, to cut-out images, to scraps, to sound, to movement, to…you name it.
Among the pieces in this exhibit, there are two that I found particularly emotive and particularly apt for inclusion in this Issue; The Surgeon and the Photographer and The Last Two Million Years.
The Surgeon and the Photographer
This piece features 365 figures, characters, object, or however you might choose to describe them, along with a book of descriptions that, according to the wall mount, are meant to “read like an almanac, horoscope, diary or personality description.”
Fabric torsos are complemented with photo cut-outs compiled from books bought at the infamous Vancouver second-hand bookstore, MacLeod’s.
These 365 hand puppets have been morphed and moulded into aspects that represent a kind of humanness in each creation, whether man-made object, natural occurrence or surreal imagining, these creatures had me taken aback.
At first almost frightening in their essence, they then drew me in. The alien aspects becoming familiar, and in that familiarity becoming, perhaps, even more frightening while at the same time undeniably compelling.
They seemed to embody particular passions and individual obsessions.
The name of the piece is derived from Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
And the otherness and alienation I felt while wandering among these creations, as well as the embodiment of obsessions and passions, are truly reflections of anxieties. In this piece the feeling of anxiety is not only the anxiety represented in Benjamin over the status of an art object in a mechanical age, but, also, to my mind, the anxiety that permeates the status of humanity in a technological age, in the age of social media and constant self-publication; the anxiety of an age where the individual is slowly becoming defined by their online representation.
The Last Two Million Years
This piece is an ambitious (and successfully so in my humble opinion) installation made up of cut-outs from select pages in a single tome: The Last Two Million Years.
The sheer scope represented here had me awestruck—so many paper pieces sculpted to stand on multiple plinths—and the piece captures, amazingly, as its title suggests, the last two million years.
Rescued from the pages of the book, each figure measures from millimetres to inches in size and the scale matches the scope. The greatest impacts, for me lay, first, in the apparent randomness (as if the room and the placement of the images in the room were a game of Chance)
and second, in the humanistic and cultural emphasis; every image is human, or made by humans. In all the mix and randomness, nothing is privileged, no culture, race, or creed seems to be given supremacy.
The glory of it, I think, lies in its anthropocentricity. Though titled “The Last Two Million Years”, it includes nothing of the world outside human influence or control. In this respect, it is akin to the piece discussed above, “The Surgeon and the Photographer”. It is this similarity that evokes, for me, a kind of nostalgia, an indefinable absence.
Even as I wandered and gloried in the pieces, I felt a repeated pull of what was not there. And that, I think, is what will stay with me, it is also what will bring me back to look, and look again.
*all images were taken at the Vancouver Art Gallery with an iPhone 5s camera on Saturday August 8th, 2015.